Dear <<First Name>>,
The other day I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. After a hug and a moment of connection, she quickly jumped into quite a story – one that was all about me! Her story was loaded with assumptions, judgement, fantasy and a huge bucket of fear. I was honestly kind of stunned. I noticed myself feeling super uncomfortable and a little bit gross. I felt like someone dumped a bunch of slime on my head and I didn’t see it coming.
I responded by gracefully diffusing the situation and stepping away. When I got to my car, I stayed really present with what I was feeling. After a few moments of reflection I realized what had happened. For a reason unbeknownst to me, I seem to have stirred up a whole story for this friend, complete with emotional triggers, and with absolutely no filter she let it tumble out of her head and right onto me.
The thing is, this probably would have bothered me for quite a while in years past. But in this instance, it was pretty quickly crystal clear that none of her story was actually about me. It was about her.
What she did is called “emotional dumping”, or as one of my favorite truth-tellers Glennon Doyle calls it, “emotional hot potato”. Glennon describes what happens when we come up against something emotionally difficult in ourselves that we don’t want or know how to deal with. When we feel it bubbling up, we quickly toss it to the next person as if it were a hot potato in order to rid ourselves of the uncomfortable feelings.
As a yogi, it’s my job to look out for such behaviors and tendencies within myself. Why? Because emotional dumping is a clear sign that I am not peeling away the layers of my own samskaras (unconscious mind patterns/impressions) that keep me from being present and responsible for myself. Yes, yoga is a path of personal development, responsibility and empowerment.
This doesn’t mean I don’t share how I feel, express vulnerability or have difficult conversations. What it does mean is that I discern between what is mine and what is not mine. And when uncomfortable feelings arise, before I simply dump them onto someone else, I allow myself to feel and understand them. Of course this is easier said than done, and this is why yoga is a life-long practice. We have opportunities at every corner to practice and improve ourselves and our lives!
I’m sure you've experienced being on the receiving end of an emotional dump or perhaps you've caught yourself doing it to someone else. Either way, I have a couple of suggestions for how to break the habit or catch yourself before it happens.
- First and foremost, when strong or upsetting feelings arise, DON’T AVOID THEM. Often these feelings are a combination of past hurtful experiences, coupled with fear about what may or may not actually be happening or going to happen in the future (projections). Recognize that neither are rooted in the present. Instead of avoiding or squashing these feelings, think of them as currents of energy passing through you. Feel them, let them flow and don’t cut off the current. It doesn’t usually take very long for the feelings to pass. Then, you are once again present.
- Once you are present and have not cut off the emotional flow, you have the POWER to address whatever you need to address in the present moment. Maybe it’s a relationship disagreement or a work place problem that needs attention, but when you aren't being tugged into an emotional story that makes you want to throw the hot potato at the other person, you are free to presently and creatively get to the truth of any given challenge. This puts the power back in your hands. Does this make sense? You are empowered in the present to address the issue at hand to the best of your ability. And if you can’t get through the emotional hot potato moment and into the present, then do nothing! From there, simply wait until you can.
- When someone throws the hot potato at you? Either you can see what’s happening and you're not taking it personally or you are triggered. If you can see that the issue is on their end and not yours, you have many choices in how you respond. You can laugh it off, you can kindly call them out, you can diffuse the dumping with a compassionate response, or you can remove yourself from their presence. You are in your own power to respond. If, however, you are triggered by the dumping, you have to go right to step one, feel the feelings before you respond and process your own experience. This way you don’t dump right back onto them.
Life is constantly offering us these situations to practice present attention, don't you think <<First Name>>? There is no singular right way to respond across the board. It’s a dance between ourselves, our environment and the highest choice at the moment. It actually becomes a very interesting and dynamic way to live your life. Managing ourselves and our own minds is really at the root of living our yoga. Presence and personal clarity develops personal power.
All Love & Yoga,